Contact Zones/ The Art of CD Rom

Cornell University, New York
The CD-Rom plays a particularly challenging role in these developments. In providing artists with a broader "bandwidths" and more extensive data bases than can yet be readily accessed on the internet, the format of the CD-Rom challenges artists to situate their thought and practice in an expansive array of visual, aural, and textual interplay. To a certain degree, it could be said that the materials and codes of the CD-Rom place even the most isolated of artists right at the epicenter of the reception and exchange of both old and new public information and entertainment systems. Yet, the CD-Rom maintains strong links to the more private, less public, nature of the book that sequesters readers in the solitary joys of their wonder and reflection on the measured space of the isolated computer screen. Some digital analysts worry about a decline in the public sphere brought about by the expansion of the home computer and its redefinition of the domestic space as sphere of separate viewing stations, an architectonics that could make home "television room" look like a dream space for social intercourse. But it is precisely a demystification of the solitariness of computer interaction that "Contact Zones" seek to provoke. Whether by bringing users in contact with each other during their experience of the exhibition or by bringing them into contact with other cultures, ideological perspectives, or subliminal fantasy states while cruising the programs, "Contact Zones" presents the art of CD-Rom as a catalyst for new collectivities, whether public in the political sense of group interaction and identity, or private in the sense of the collective unconscious and its identifications through shared memories. My choice of the concept that shapes this exhibition, "Contact Zones," also aims to bring the challenging discourse of the new media into critical dialogue with the various theoretical communities for whom this term has particular consequence. Cultural theorists will be quick to recognize this term as having been emphasized by Mary Louise Pratt for exemplifying "the space of colonial encounter, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict" (Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation [London: Routledge, 1992], p. 6). Pratt adds that she borrows the term "contact" from linguistics where it refers to linguistic improvisation among speakers of different languages whose need to communicate, usually in the context of trade or colonialism, results in the development of pidgins or creoles. We also can understand "contact" to have particular valence not only in social and linguistic contexts but also in the kinds of material and electric ones that have resulted in the digital revolution. Contact zones, in this context, are the points of energy generation and flow in electronic and computer circuits that sustain the digital interface across languages and geographies. Finally, contact has been understood as the conductor of representation between the preconscious and conscious fields of the Freudian psyche, with their curious linkages of image and word, as well as the temporal hinge between past and future in philosophical discussions of time and space by philosophers of the virtual, from Deleuze to Lyotard. This expansive and yet precise notion, "Contact Zones," thus serves as the metaphor for this exhibition of artwork on CD-Rom whose pieces catalyze reflection on the simultaneous, speedy overlap of the many material and conceptual zones that resonate in charged contact with each other on the same digital platform
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